Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman
There are many rookies that take time to develop into great players. Fred Jackson, Arian Foster, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are recent examples.
However, this list looks at the players who could make immediate impacts for the Minnesota Vikings this coming season.
New GM Rick Spielman has had success in his previous drafts as a Vikings staff member. With the three previous first-round draft choices, he's landed big playmakers in Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, as well as a potential franchise quarterback in Christian Ponder. This year he drafted 10 players, with 16 undrafted free agents still on the team. So let's look at six of these players who could have the biggest impact in their rookie season.
Vikings LT Matt Kalil
I'll start with the most obvious of choice for this list. Left tackle Matt Kalil was taken with the 4th pick of the draft and looks to immediately bolster a weak offensive line from a year ago.
His biggest impact for the team will be improving the confidence of the team’s young quarterback Christian Ponder. Having a reliable blindside protector will greatly help both his development and production.
Kalil played left tackle at USC for two seasons. As a sophomore, he beat out Tyron Smith at left tackle. That's the same Tyron Smith that became a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. Kalil was named a third team All-American that season. The following year he was named a first team All-American. During those two seasons, he never allowed a sack.
What I’m trying to say is the guy is good.
He will have the chance to practice against one of the best pass-rushers in the league in Jared Allen before the season even starts, which will allow him to be more NFL ready than most rookies at his position.
The selection also allows the team to move former left tackle Charlie Johnson over to his natural position of guard. While Johnson is no Steve Hutchinson, he can be a solid starter for the team. I predict that the Kalil selection will help turn a weak offensive line unit from 2011 into an area of strength for the team in 2012.
Vikings S Harrison Smith
Another obvious choice for this list, but when you are a first-round draft pick nowadays, you are expected to make immediate impacts.
Smith looks to improve upon a disastrous secondary from a year ago. Despite leading the league in sacks with 50, the Vikings finished 26th in pass yards allowed, 32nd in opponent quarterback rating, 31st in points allowed and tied for last with only eight interceptions on the year (via NFL.com).
Introducing a smart and talented safety to the starting lineup can only improve on those numbers.
Smith was a four-year starter for Notre Dame, and he was a versatile player for them. Playing both linebacker and safety, he showed a natural football intellect that most players can only dream of. He used that instinct to become a reliable and steady player for the Irish.
Finishing his career with 309 tackles, 3.5 sacks, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, he proved he could do everything a safety should do against talented competition.
What Smith lacks in speed, (he posted a 4.57 in the 40-yard dash at the combine) he makes up for with strength, smarts, and consistency.
Starting at linebacker shows that he is more than strong enough to stick against the big tight ends in the NFL nowadays.
He was a team captain at Notre Dame, which means he could provide leadership that the safety position has lacked since the departure of Darren Sharper.
And while seven interceptions over four years doesn’t seem like much, it is worth noting that they were all during his junior year, which to me shows that if he is allowed to be a playmaker, he can excel at it.
He can change his style of play to fit what the team needs him to do, which makes him all the more valuable for the Vikings. Even if he doesn’t post the numbers, look for Smith to improve the secondary’s overall play next season.
Vikings CB Josh Robinson
Putting Robinson on this list is a bit more bold than the previous two players, seeing as he was selected as more of a project. However, with how dismal the secondary played last season, Robinson might be thrown in much sooner than predicted. And from what I have seen on him, he could flourish.
Robinson jumped into the limelight by posting the fastest 40 time at this year’s combine, but he is more than just a speedster. He posted the farthest broad jump of all defensive backs, as well as the second best vertical. Add to that his 17 reps of 225 pounds, and you have the athletic dynamo that is Josh Robinson.
The true definition of a playmaker, he ranked fourth in the nation with 1.42 passes defended per game in 2011, helping him earn second team All-American honors. Robinson started 35 of 38 games during his three-year career at Central Florida, gathering 176 tackles and 10 interceptions.
He was also an accomplished punt returner, averaging over 13 yards a return.
Robinson will probably compete for a starting corner spot on the Vikings, though I see him as more of a nickel corner in his first year. He brings with him his ability to play both inside and outside corner, which would allow Antoine Winfield to play more at the inside corner position, where he is most effective.
Standing at 5’10’’ and weighing 200 pounds, Robinson has the frame to add a few pounds of bulk without sacrificing his amazing speed and quickness, which would allow him to contend better with the NFL’s elite wideouts, such as NFC North opponent Calvin Johnson.
Robinson’s talent should push the veterans around him to play better throughout the season, and I see him finishing with a handful of picks, as well as being the team’s primary punt returner.
Vikings WR Jarius Wright
While Arkansas teammate Greg Childs may eventually become the steal of this draft as a potential No. 1 receiver, this list is about immediate impact, and Wright should bring more of that with him than Childs.
Many people have compared Wright to current Viking Percy Harvin, which makes sense seeing as they are both extremely quick and very similar in size (Harvin is listed at 5’11’’ and 184 pounds, Wright is listed at 5’10’’ and 180).
But for me, that is where the comparisons end. Harvin can play both receiver and running back, whereas Wright is more of a pure receiver. Where Harvin excels at playing in the slot, Wright has the skill set to play both inside and out. When I look at Wright, I see an unpolished form of the Panthers' Steve Smith.
(As a side note, Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart also went to Arkansas, so I assume he will take an early liking to both Wright and Childs.)
Wright was a four-year starter at Arkansas, starting in 44 of his 50 games played there. He left Arkansas as the career leader in receiving yards with 2,934. He had 24 career touchdowns, 12 of which were in his senior year. He averaged almost 17.5 yards per reception, and showed he can step up when it counts with his Sugar Bowl performance of 70 yards and one touchdown.
He has amazing acceleration, posting the third best 20-yard shuttle time for receivers at the combine (4.03), and he has excellent speed, posting a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash.
Wright could compete for the starting spot opposite Harvin while Jerome Simpson is out for the first three games, and I see him becoming the team's third receiver before year's end. Using his speed and excellent hands to make plays, he should help open up the field for both Harvin and Simpson, as well as give Christian Ponder a third reliable receiver.
With the team expected to run many multiple tight end sets this season, Wright’s play time may be limited, but look for the Vikings to rely on him more and more as the season goes on.
Vikings TE/FB Rhett Ellison
I was watching a draft tracker when I saw Ellison’s name scroll across the screen. Like everyone else, I was confused. I found myself asking “Why are the Vikings taking another tight end?” I was just as critical of the decision as everyone else.
However, the more I look at the pick, the more I like it. For starters, he was first-round pick Matt Kalil’s roommate in college, so his presence should help Kalil adjust to a new environment.
Ellison can play fullback as well as tight end. He also was a special teams standout, making the 2011 All-Pac 12 First Team as a special team player.
Add in the fact that he was a captain at USC, won USC’s coveted Leadership Award, and won the Co-Lifter of the Year Award. He is the definition of a team player, and he should bring a great attitude and work ethic into the clubhouse.
Ellison didn't post much for statistics, as he wasn't a statistical player. He had 53 career receptions for 471 yards and six touchdowns.
However, it was his blocking that made the biggest impact at USC. Mike Mayock of NFL.com said that the offense at USC ran through Ellison, which is a big complement, as the Trojan's offense was incredible last season (via Christopher Gates of the Daily Norseman)
His technique is already very refined and he should be able to help the running and passing game immediately. The Vikings spent a fourth-round pick on him for a reason, so look for them to utilize him often.
Vikings K Blair Walsh
Ryan Longwell’s heir apparent became the starting kicker within a matter of days after he was drafted when the Vikings released the veteran kicker. That says a lot for the confidence that the team has in a player who struggled for the first half of his senior season.
Walsh was 21 for 35 on field goals during his senior year, but the three years before that he was a combined 55 for 68. If the senior version of Walsh shows up, the Vikings may be in trouble. However, if he could revert back to his stellar sophomore and junior years where he was 40 for 45, then the Vikings will have hit big.
He was arguably the strongest leg in the draft, and had accuracy from long range that make him more valuable then he seems. Walsh was 10 for 17 from beyond 50 yards during his career, which is good by any standards. He will also most likely handle kickoff duties, which should help the defense with better starting field position.
He is a bit more of a wild card at the kicker position than most teams would want, but the potential is there. The Vikings realize they are rebuilding, and therefore are trusting unproven players to perform.
Coaches praised his performance during OTAs and Mandatory Mini-Camp, which is a good sign for Walsh, but with the kicker position being such a mind game, the team will have to wait until the regular season to know what they have in him.
I predict that he will begin figuring his game out during the season and become a reliable kicker by season’s end.